Archive for Millennials

By Millennials, For Millennials

Beth Kanter is compiling a list of 20-something bloggers writing about a sector that is supposedly dominated by 20-something bloggers. It’s one of those great posts that 1. makes you think and 2. is teeming with links that get you started on an hours-long journey through some great resources, surfing new ideas the whole way. Here’s the intro – I’m just getting started on the fantastic collection of links, blogs and projects:

Even though I’m more like twenty-something times 2.5, I attended the “Twenty-Something Meet Up” at the BlogHer Conference. Why did I go? I keep hearing from nonprofits that one of the reasons they want to incorporate a social networking or media strategy is to reach a younger audience. So, having this opportunity listen was very valuable.

Zandria did a fabulous job of facilitating the session. There were probably about 40 or 50 women in the room – not all were twenty somethings.

I wanted to listen to what was on their minds in general, although I was particularly keen on hearing any discussions or snippets about social change, nonprofits, and activism. Julia Smith, who blogs at the idealist and was in the room asked “Where are the twenty something/millennial bloggers writing about social change, activism, and nonprofits?”

I thought to myself, now that’s a list I’d like to see.


Millennials Rising: Clicks vs. Change?

While it is great to build vast lists online, real “change”—the watchword of the millennials—takes action, the breaking of the virtual barrier, and not merely clicking a few links. This is a generation predisposed to believing that action on their part will lead to real change.

In their fascinating study of millennials and the changing American political landscape, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais argue that the adoption of new communication technology, along with other factors such as diversity and high self-esteem, creates an opportunity for a political shift away from the stasis of two old political parties battling it out for minor shifts in policy, to a new drive for public service that transcends partisan politics. In Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics, they write that “the tectonic plates undergirding America’s current political landscape are beginning to shift. The resulting cataclysm will wash away the current politics of polarization and ideological deadlock, putting in place a new landscape of collective purpose and national consensus that involves individuals and communities in solving the nation’s problems.”

This is heady stuff, and I am tempted to heed veteran progressive policy analyst Micah Sifry‘s admonition not to “fetishize the millennials.” Micah’s point is that, being human, the young activists of today will follow the same pattern of pursuing some degree of self-interest as did all the generations that came before—that, and, of course, the fact that there are people over 40 doing important work in social change. When Winograd and Hais state that “Millennials are the largest and most racially diverse generation of Americans ever,” it is tempting to add “to date” as a snarky postscript. After all, the Boomers held the same title not so long ago.

But Winograd and Hais do make a compelling argument for a rare confluence of demographic change: “. . . there are now twice as many Millennials as Gen-Xers and already a million more Millennials alive than Baby Boomers,” they write, and cite various studies to show that this group is both more socially aware and more self-confident than preceding generations of Americans. That awareness, along with the high cost of higher education, will create the right conditions for a new movement toward national service—clearly the fondest hope Winograd and Hais hold for the millennials. “Above all,” they write, “national service will create a bonding and values-reinforcing experience almost as powerful as the GI generation’s service in the Armed Forces did three generations ago. In the same way that World War II boot camps helped to break down America’s ethnic and racial silos, twenty-first century experiences of working together for a common goal will institutionalize Millennial values of family, responsibility, and diversity as ‘American values’ for future decades.”

This is a theme I’m exploring in more depth in chapter five of CauseWired – what do you think?

The New Activism

Last night, over at the barn, our pick-up band trotted out some old Neil Young licks and we bashed away on our guitars on some classic Boomer rock. In the midst of the audio carnage, one of the guys picked out the lead lines from Ohio, that brilliant protest song recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young way back in 1970 (when the record will clearly show that I was eight years old). It’s vicious little riff as guitar songs go, but the whole song is evocative of that era’s mass protest, student marches, and the edge of violence in civil disobedience.

None of this resonates particularly with the CauseWired generation, dominated by millennials who were born after 1980 and see 9/11 as their defining national moment. As I explore the intersection of activism and politics and social causes in this book, I’ll be looking (hopefully with a clear eye) and both sides of Facebook activists – the massive numbers and widespread involvement, but also the kind of passive “friending” of social change. It’s a bit “tastes great, less filling,” to quote the vintage light beer ads.

Two weeks ago in the Times, Streeter Seidell, the editor of, took a sardonic look at his generation’s attitude towards the protesting Boomers. He’s playing it for yucks, no doubt, but there’s some truth there as well – and it cuts both ways:

I know, I know, you threw rocks at National Guardsmen at Kent State and got arrested at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. You were there when the young people rose up and for the first time told the establishment, “We are here and we will be heard!” And we’re going to do that, too, as soon as we get done watching this thing on YouTube. It’s hysterical. It’s this German kid screaming at his computer or something, I don’t even know. You gotta see it.

And don’t for a second think that we’re not informed when it comes to the candidates. I may not be out marching but you better believe I’m going to post about my support on Obama’s Facebook wall. Once I post it there it’s going to show up in my friends’ News Feeds and that’s just as effective as passing out flyers, right? Right.

“Studies” by “scientists” are claiming that we’re the “look at me” generation — that we’re all a bunch of self-absorbed, egotistic narcissists hell-bent on being the center of attention at all times. We’re flattered you’re talking about us but I believe that honor belongs to our mentors: the generation responsible for the boob job, the tummy tuck and jogging. The most self-absorbed thing we’ve invented is a secret language that cannot be understood by anyone over thirty and l00k5 5om3th1n6 l1k3 th1s.

We’re not bad kids; we have ideals, too. We know we’re in an unethical war signed, sealed and delivered by a shady group of men working at the behest of the military industrial complex. And we promise we’re going to tear down this regime as soon as the new season of “Lost” is over and we finally find out what’s up with Jacob. That dude creeps me out, for real.

Not Trying to Cause No Big Sensation…

The Pew Research Center is out this week with a new study looking at the so-called “Generation Next,” the group of young people born in the 80s and more frequently referred to as the millennials, Americans who began to come of age around the turn of the century. It’s an excellent report and I recommend a full reading for anyone who cares about how these young consumers view politics, their futures, social activism, and technology. The biggest finding: it’s a tolerant, progressive generation.

In their political outlook, they are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality. They are also much more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than was the preceding generation of young people, which could reshape politics in the years ahead. Yet the evidence is mixed as to whether the current generation of young Americans will be any more engaged in the nation’s civic life than were young people in the past, potentially blunting their political impact.


About half of Gen Nexters say the growing number of immigrants to the U.S. strengthens the country – more than any generation. And they also lead the way in their support for gay marriage and acceptance of interracial dating.

But there’s also some evidence that the preponderance of social networks and easy, online communications actually breeds some laziness in terms of involvement – something we’ll explore in CauseWired.

Their embrace of new technology has made them uniquely aware of its advantages and disadvantages. They are more likely than older adults to say these cyber-tools make it easier for them to make new friends and help them to stay close to old friends and family. But more than eight-in-ten also acknowledge that these tools “make people lazier.”